The watchdog group whose court challenges have long delayed a germ warfare defense lab at Dugway Proving Ground insists that newly announced Army plans for the lab will still require a new, full-blown environmental impact statement.
That could bring years more of delays.But any effort by the Army to sidestep that process will bring another lawsuit by the Washington-based Foundation on Economic Trends, its lawyer Andrew Kimbrell told the Deseret News on Thursday.
A suit by the group in 1984 forced the Army to conduct a lengthy environmental impact statement for the germ lab, which was originally to have a "biosafety level 4" rating that could have allowed making aerosols out of genetically engineered germs that cause disease without cure.
Public concern forced the Army to change plans to build only a "biosafety level 3" lab, which would not legally allow the more exotic and dangerous work - which the Army claimed it never planned anyway. It said it wanted the higher safety rating simply to better protect workers and the public.
The Pentagon told the Deseret News on Wednesday it now would like to combine the germ lab with the new planned Life Sciences Lab at Dugway.
Lt. Col. Dick Bridges said the Army plans more environmental review before its plans for that combined facility will be made final. But he said doing that through a full-blown environmental impact statement is only one possibility the Army is considering.
He said the Army is also considering simply updating the draft environmental impact statement for the germ lab, or updating the environmental assessment performed for the Life Sciences Lab. Those steps could be much quicker, and could allow environmental review to be done as early as this summer.
But Kimbrell said, "This is a totally new facility and needs a new environmental impact statement, and that will take considerable time to prepare."
Kimbrell said that logic used by the Army in its previous studies may also make it difficult to justify building the new lab at all.
"The BL3 level was examined in the draft environmental impact statement for the germ lab. It was rejected, with the Army saying it needed the extra safety cushion a BL4 would bring.
"So by its own admission, a BL3 may not bring as much safety as is needed," Kimbrell said.
Army officials disagree with that statement. Dr. Gary Resnick, head of life sciences at Dugway, has complained that watchdog groups pleaded for a BL3 instead of a BL4 to ensure work would not be done with genetic engineered pathogens.
But when the Army agreed to do that, they complained a BL3 isn't safe enough and more protection is needed - which is what the Army tried to provide with the BL4 facility. "They can't have it both ways," Resnick has said.
BL3 work has been done for years at Dugway.